Like many young Canadians, I grew up on traditional 'Hockey Night in Canada' every Saturday evening on national television. And there was born my passion for sports. It inhabited me at a very young age and I made sure to foster it every day ever since. In 2014, I was lucky enough to attend five FIFA World Cup matches at the emblematic 'Estadio do Maracanã' in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. This dream-come-true experience was a turning point, as I then decided to refocus my career and applied at adidas. Since then, I have worked from our headquarters in Herzogenaurach, Germany as a Senior Project Manager in a horizontal function of Product Operations called Apparel Costing. Last summer, I had the immense privilege to be sent out to China to take part in an employee rotation program called the 'Global Operations (GOPS) Ambassador Program' to support the production of TELSTAR18, our latest Match Ball for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. Today, I live in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, where I relocated about three months ago, to oversee the Manufacturing Excellence Footwear initiatives for our Strategic Technologies in our facilities in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Myanmar. This post is my humble opinion on how Telstar18 shaped my latest career move.
The art of career developmnt
To me, career development is just like a game of chess. The art of chess strategy is knowing how to formulate a plan for the chess game, and develop your pieces to accomplish your goal. It’s as simple as that! A good chess strategy is to develop your pieces to stake out the center of the board as effectively as possible. In the center, each chess piece exercises their maximum movement potential. Although each piece moves individually, every movement should always be in line with your end goal: to checkmate the opposing king.
Why am I talking about the game of chess on a post about a soccer match ball? Because these principles can be applied universally. Even the greatest minds of football tactics have embraced this strategy in numerous forms such as the almighty tiki-taka - a style of play involving controlling the midfield through highly accurate short passing and movement, working the ball through various channels with an emphasis on retaining possession – controlling the game from the midfield, or the center board if you will.
Now, let's bring this analogy back to the context of career development, where it also applies beautifully. The art of career development is knowing how to formulate a plan for your career and gain experience in different positions to accomplish this plan. A good career development strategy is to obtain positions which will broaden your organizational knowledge along the value chain. Although each position has different roles and responsibilities, each of them should always contribute to reaching your long-term career ambition – whatever it might be for you!
1. Breaking the Funcional Walls
Coming from the creation center, my knowledge regarding the scope of work in the Sourcing department prior to my short-term assignment was very limited. Therefore, I was very happy not only to work from Guangzhou, China and its operational centers, but also visit our production sites in Ho Chi Minh City for a week, the Hong Kong office for a day and other factories producing all sorts of product types (i.e. balls, footwear, bags, socks, etc.). When exposed to as many parts of the business as possible, it becomes easier to understand everyone’s role and pass the ball to the right player at the right moment.
2. Outside of your comfort zone is where the magic happens
Comfort: the ennemy of progress! Only outside of it can you find the greatest potential for growth. Having said that, even outside of your comfort zone can you still find comfortable elements. Over the past three years, I have been exposed to the three main divisions at adidas. Namely, Apparel, Footwear, and Accessories & Gear. Many times, I have heard that each division is so unique and different from other divisions. I am sure you also hear similar comments in your respective companies. In the effort of reducing complexity, I would like to bring a bit of clarity to this latter statement. Did you know that the compound making process for a football bladder is very similar to the one for a footwear rubber outsole? Did you know that the lean principles can be applied universally? Did you know that the circular knitting machines for textile materials are very similar the ones used for knitting socks? Very often, concepts, processes, and technologies can be adapted across divisions. Although each division, business unit, and product type is singular, the key is to find comfort in the commonalities to better focus on learning about the differences.
3. Understand the End-to-End Value Chain
On my first day at the World of Sports (Herzogenaurach, Germany), my hiring manager told me: "You know you will live in Asia at some point, right?" At that time, this statement surprised me as I had just moved to Germany 48 hours prior to that very conversation. He then explained that working from the creation center would only expose me to a part of Global Operations - Product Operations, to be precise. If I wanted to broaden my understanding of the end-to-end value chain, I needed to immerse into the factory environment, that being by obtaining a role in Sourcing in one of our liaison offices. His statement suddenly made a lot of sense.
4. The game is played on the field
This statement is also true in the context of career development. Genba, as the Japanese say. This term means "the actual place". In business, genba refers to the place where the value is created; in manufacturing the genba is the factory floor. What better way to deepen my knowledge than to spend time where the value built for our products finally come together? Taking part to factory trips can only expand your knowledge to a certain predefined extent while living the daily life at the factory brings a greater perspective and deeper understanding of Sourcing. Suddenly, the perfect picture was not looking so consistent and the real picture started revealing itself. The devil is in the details, as they say. I can now utilize the knowledge I have acquired during this assignment for taking more conscious decisions in my future projects while constantly asking myself: “Does this make sense from an end-to-end perspective?”.
5. Learn how to fish
Expanding your knowledge can also be made by getting your hands dirty and experiencing yourself the very process you are attempting to improve. One of the most memorable experiences was to assemble my very own Official Match Ball. To effectively propose improvements to the production line, the suppliers suggested I experience every single step along the production process: from “forming the carcass” all the way to the finished good’s “final inspection”. Of course, it took me about eight hours to assemble the ball, compared to a fraction of that time for a trained operator. As you can imagine, I was neither nearly as skilled nor as meticulous as the operators on the line. However, I carried those teachings throughout my assignment as they constantly came to mind while proposing kaizens to the factory. There is no better place for learning than going on the workshop floor and seeing for yourself. They say: “Give a man a fish and you will feed him for a day, teach him how to fish and you will feed him for a lifetime.”
6. After the game is before the game
There are many things you can do outside of your working hours that might help you at some point during your daily work. After the game is before the game. Here I am not talking about working extra hours, but simply understanding your environment and learn about the culture you are newly immersed in. During my three-month assignment in China, I spent most of my weekends travelling to different cities and famous landmarks. I also spent a lot of time discussing with locals and learning about their rich cultural heritage. Although these weekend getaways were for fun, they came handy at times where I was seeking in developing a stronger relationship with my business partners and colleagues. Some of those learnings have benefited me at moments I had the least expected it.
For example, when I delivered a two-day Project Management training to the LO Guangzhou Accessories & Gear Team, I remember the level of motivation dropping dramatically right after lunch on the first day of training. Not to mention it was a Friday afternoon – the perfect storm for losing an audience. At this very moment came back to mind parts of the very rich Chinese History. I used the example of the Seven Warring States of Ancient China to vulgarize the theory about managing stakeholders in a project management context. Suddenly, all idle minds turned back on and eyes turned right back at me. A few smiles accompanied the many question marks on everyone’s foreheads. “How do you know about this?”, they asked. I would have never won their attention back for the rest of the training if it was not for the reminiscence from my travel to The Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor in Xi’an.
As mentioned, I have started in the Apparel division, working from a horizontal function of the creation center in Germany. Last summer, I was working in the Accessories & Gear division, in Sourcing Operations from our operational centers in China. Today, I work in the Footwear division, implementing manufacturing innovations at our suppliers located in South East Asia. Although these positions are very different from one another, they all leverage my Project Management expertise, contribute to a deeper knowledge of Global Operations and forge my strategic thinking - three core skills I believe will be very helpful for my long-term career plan.
While I cannot know for sure what the future will be made of, it is certain that I have grown from those experiences. The key is to keep being curious about our business while continuously adding strings to your bow; acquire new learnings and experiences that are in line with your long-term ambition, and foster the relationships with your business partners and colleagues. With these 3 Key Enablers, I hope to have brought a new perspective to your career development strategy. Now let’s see how this global mindset with contribute to your long-term ambitions.